Calls for more education, training as Western Australia's assisted dying law takes effect
From 1 July 2021, terminally ill Western Australians can legally access Voluntary Assisted Dying.
After an 18-month implementation period, Western Australia’s Voluntary Assisted Dying law is now in effect.
The law, which began operating on 1 July 2021, allows terminally ill adults who are suffering intolerably and whose death is imminent to seek medical assistance to end their suffering.
To access the law, an eligible person needs to make three requests for a voluntary assisted death and two doctors who have completed the relevant training must independently assess the patient's eligibility.
During the 18-month implementation period, services such as the Statewide Care Navigator Service, mandatory training for participating doctors and nurse practitioners, the Statewide Pharmacy Service and the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board were established.
Western Australia is now the second Australian state to roll out a Voluntary Assisted Dying program. In Victoria, a VAD law has been operating since June 2019. Tasmania and South Australia have also passed legislation, with their programs to come into effect in 2022, after implementation periods.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said about 60 West Australians are expected to peacefully end their own lives within the next 12 months under newly implemented program.
Just eight medical practitioners have so far completed the necessary training to administer voluntary assisted dying, the government said in a statement. A further 37 GPs and nurse practitioners are undergoing the training among a total of 95 who have expressed interest.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the number of trained doctors was not a concern: "Many medical practitioners won't undertake the training until they actually have a patient in front of them seeking the information. This will continue to grow as the program starts to build."
The Western Australian parliament passed the VAD law in December 2019 after one of the biggest community consultation processes ever undertaken in WA.
At the time, opinion polls showed more then 80% public support for the right of terminally ill person, who is suffering intolerably, to seek medical assistance to hasten death. Only a small number of people are likely to use the law. In other jurisdictions with similar legislation the number of VAD deaths is around 2%.
Read the ABC story about the commencement of the Western Australian law.
Increased awareness and community conversations
There is still much work to do to get the word out to eligible Western Australians that VAD is now a legal choice, and to encourage doctors to do the VAD training.
If you’re in WA, start a discussion with your family, friends and colleagues about end of life care and planning, including voluntary assisted dying. Next time you visit your GP, ask them their stance on VAD, and ask them to consider doing the VAD training.
In June 2020, the Victorian VAD Review Board published ‘Important Lessons for the Community’ to mark the first year of the law’s operation in Victoria and to encourage the community to become better informed about the VAD process.
While focused on Victoria, this advice is also relevant to Western Australia.
(From the VAD Review Board Report of Operations January-June 2020 page 8)
The conversation around voluntary assisted dying is continuing to expand and more Victorians are becoming aware of the options available to them.
- Applicants must have an incurable and advanced disease, illness or medical condition that is expected to cause death within six months (or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition). However, voluntary assisted dying is not just for people with cancer or neurodegenerative conditions. Voluntary assisted dying is applicable for any illness or disease that may be terminal.
- While the Act outlines the minimum required information related to diagnosis and prognosis, the Board encourages medical practitioners to provide adequate supporting clinical documentation as this information is incredibly useful in understanding the reasons people are requesting voluntary assisted dying.
- Some applicants may be assessed by a medical practitioner as ineligible. In this circumstance, the applicant can be assessed by the same medical practitioner at a later time or may wish to seek an opinion and assessment from a different medical practitioner.
- People are encouraged to talk to their family and doctor about their end of life preferences. Registered health practitioners are not able to initiate a discussion about voluntary assisted dying.
- Voluntary assisted dying does not appear on someone’s death certificate. The underlying disease or illness is recorded as the cause of death.
- Some applicants may require an interpreter, so planning and timely access is important.